What are the Nasal Turbinates?

Turbinates are normal structures in the nasal passages. There is an inferior, middle, and superior turbinate on each side of the nose. The turbinates are highly vascular tissue, consisting of bone, spongy erectile tissue, and mucous membrane outer lining. The turbinates, along with the septum and nose, humidify, warm, and clean the air we breathe. These structures also contribute to smell. The inferior turbinate is a largest turbinate, and the primary contributor to nasal and allergy symptoms. This turbinate, about the size of your finger, runs the length of the nasal airway. The inferior turbinate can change size dramatically. Temperature changes, lying down, infection, allergies, hormones, emotions, and dust all may increase the size of the turbinate.

Large turbinates, alternatively known as hypertrophied turbinates, contribute to nasal symptoms. In some patients, the nasal turbinate remains persistently enlarged and obstructs the airway, resulting in a congested feeling. Usually, when the underlying problem is treated, such as allergy or infection, the turbinate will shrink back to its normal size. However, in some people, the inferior turbinate will remain swollen and enlarged, even if the underlying problem is corrected. The most common symptom from large turbinates is nasal congestion, nasal obstruction, difficulty breathing through the nose, and snoring. The symptoms may be worse on one side, or alternate sides. Symptoms may appear during the day or may appear primarily at night. In some patients, the drainage of the sinuses is inhibited, resulting in repeated sinus infections or post-nasal drip.

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